If you knew of a simple, free way to feel calmer and happier that didn’t take too much time out of your day, would you try it? If you answered yes, then you might be ready to begin a mindfulness meditation practice.
What is Mindfulness Meditation?
Mindfulness meditation is a simple form of meditation in which you sit in a comfortable position and focus on the breath. As you focus and breathe, thoughts and emotions will rise to the surface. Instead of trying to shut them down or ignore them, you acknowledge and accept them. Then, you let them go.
Sounds easy enough, right? It’s not. But a) it gets easier with practice and b) there’s no such thing as a “bad” meditation. If you’re sitting still with the intention of meditating, you’re doing it right.
So what can you do when certain thoughts or emotions are especially pesky and intrusive? Continue to acknowledge them. Let them clamor for your attention like puppies or children. Just watch and breathe. Your thoughts and emotions want you to get excited/angry/anxious; they want you to feel and think what they want you to feel and think, and they want you to do it right now. Mindfulness meditation helps you realize that it’s okay to not engage with thoughts and feelings. It’s okay to not jump at their every whim.
Over time, your meditation practice will sift into everyday life. You’ll notice that you are less easily provoked, slower to react, calmer, and more thoughtful. If you struggle with a mental health disorder, you’ll learn that your thoughts and feelings don’t define you.
Can Meditation Cure Mental Illness?
While meditation is a wonderful tool for those who struggle with mental health issues, it is not a cure. It is most effective when used as a supplement to professional treatment in the form of medication and/or psychotherapy.
If you are struggling with a mental health disorder, seek help from your doctor, therapist, or a facility like Highland Hospital in West Virginia, where we can diagnose, treat, and stabilize children, adolescents, and adults.
Is Meditation Ever Dangerous?
It may seem counterintuitive to ask a person who has schizophrenia or a history of psychotic experiences to be alone with their thoughts. Even someone with depression or anxiety may question whether meditation will help them or just make their symptoms worse.
While it’s true that some case studies have been documented of people who have undergone psychotic breaks after meditation, those case studies involve extreme circumstances. For example, in this case study from 2021, the person experienced a psychotic episode only after weeks of a particularly rigorous meditation practice that involved meditating for 18 hours a day with severely restricted food intake and sleep. The patient experienced the breakdown after 18 days of this intense practice.
If you’re struggling with a mental disorder (or even if you’re not), this type of extreme meditation is not advisable. But as part of a daily self-care routine, meditation is highly effective. A recent large-scale study by Cambridge University Press showed that participants in a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program did not experience any undue harm and, more significantly, that MBSR participation actually prevented harm.
Other studies show that, combined with medication, meditation can benefit people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. In this study, meditation was shown to decrease hallucinations and anxiety in schizophrenic patients. An article from PsychCentral reports that meditation may also help to alleviate the extreme highs and lows of bipolar disorder and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
The benefits of meditation have much to do with its effects on the brain. A 2015 study describes the way meditation changes brain structure in ways that bolster attention and mood and decrease stress. Meditation offers these additional benefits:
- Enhances self-regulation and self-awareness
- Reduces rumination (dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings)
- Improves working memory (the ability to keep track of information needed to complete a task)
- Reduces emotional reactivity
- Boosts relationship satisfaction (by enhancing skill in communicating emotions and handling relationship stressors)
If you’re still not sure whether mindfulness meditation is for you, all we can suggest is this: give it a try. Spend 10 minutes a day in a comfortable chair, breathing quietly, and see what happens. You might be surprised at how much you come to look forward to it.